Don't Diet

Published:  10/12/2023

Don’t go on a diet. Dieting and diets have been well studied. The main findings from these studies are: 1) Any form of calorie restriction will cause you to lose weight and 2) Ninety-five percent of dieters returned to at least the weight they were before the diet. That’s right. Nearly everyone eventually gains all the weight back (and often more). I’m aware of how depressing this sounds, but there is hope if you are trying to lose some extra body fat. 
Forget about the weight you are hoping to lose (at least, for a while.) Instead, focus on being healthier. Learn to lift weights. Get your heart rate up through some form of enjoyable movement and eat real food that is nutrient dense.

Make exercise a habit. Start small until the habit is established, and don’t be afraid to keep it small. Consistency is the key. Exercise will not make you lose much (if any weight) but remember that is not the focus. Weight training might even make you heavier at first (but you will be less fat). The reason is that you will build muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. It also requires more calories to maintain. Lifting weights creates at least four benefits: 1) it makes you strong, 2) it burns more calories than cardio, 3) muscles store glucose (so more muscle helps to keep our blood sugar in check), and 4) the additional calories needed to maintain muscle will allow you to eat a little more food without gaining fat.

Cardio is important too. I don’t enjoy doing it, but it helps our heart and lungs to stay strong. Find something you like to do. There are many options: sports, skating, dancing, running, jump rope, swimming, cycling, walking, hiking, …. You’ll get a little rush after the work is done, and that can be addicting. It will also improve your mood (that’s no small thing).

Finally, remember Michael Pollan’s quote, “Eat (unprocessed) food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Diets don’t work because when you get off them, the weight returns. The only way around this is to never get off the “diet,” which means it must be a lifestyle that you can do forever. Your diet must be tasty. It must be healthy, and it has to be sustainable.

The only diet that fits that description is a whole food diet. Eat things that are not ultra-processed. If you don’t recognize every ingredient, you shouldn’t eat it. Highly processed food is engineered to make us crave more and more of it, and it doesn’t fill us up as much as whole food. Compare 28 grams of nuts to 28 grams of Doritos. The fiber in the nuts makes absorbing all the calories in them hard. This means nuts will make you feel full, but you won’t absorb all the calories. Nuts probably won’t spike your blood sugar either. They will satisfy your hunger better than the same weight of chips or processed crackers. Your gut bacteria will be happier too. The chemicals in the Doritos probably will not do much for the good bacteria in your digestive tract.

Instead of focusing on calories and dieting, focus on the nutrient density of the foods you eat. Fruit and vegetables are filling, naturally low in calories, and dense with nutrients. No food scientist could ever recreate the beneficial chemicals and nutrients that can be found in broccoli. Use real herbs and spice for flavor. Make sure you love what you’re eating. Make every meal something you look forward to. Trust the ancient cultures of the world. Their cuisine has stood the test of time.

Don’t eat fake foods that have labels that pretend to be healthy. Low carb, low fat, gluten free, blah, blah, blah, …. Strawberries, blueberries, peppers, onions, garlic, beans, … don’t need a label to convince you they are health promoting foods. If you like cheese, dairy, eggs, meat, …, eat those things, but eat the whole versions of them. For example, eat real cheese that is made from ingredients you recognize, ingredients that belong in cheese (salt, some form of milk, and enzymes). If you are going to eat meat, skip the processed stuff. Real yogurt (not the sugar laden stuff) is super healthy. Eggs are real food. Eating real food (in moderate amounts) will keep you healthy. Ultra-processed food is harmful to your health, and it contains stuff that isn’t food.

Real food makes you feel fuller quicker, which helps you to eat less. Real food is more satisfying and eating it consistently will change your tastebuds. For example, after you learn to prepare veggies properly (again, look to the ancient cultures for recipes), vegetables will taste better than most other foods because they have more complex flavors.

If you would like to lose bodyfat, eating real foods (especially fiber rich foods) will eventually reduce body fat. If you want to reduce more, you can slowly adjust down your portions overtime, but don’t let yourself feel deprived. Long term, you must love the food you eat and feel well fed every day, else you will not be able to maintain your healthy lifestyle. Starvation is not sustainable. If you are eating too much, you can always slowly taper down the portion sizes until you find the right balance.   

If you exercise and eat this way, you will be healthy. Your body will be shapelier, and it will be strong. Forget about losing weight, focus on being healthy because a full life depends on a foundation of good health. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend you love. We tend not to grant ourselves the same compassion we extend to others. That is not healthy. Be kind to yourself and focus on the process not the outcome.